DARKTOLIGHT: A secular coming together – Fred Strong

By Fred Strong

In Portland, Ore., the city that Huffington Post considers America’s least religious, we seculars have a plethora of meetups, discussion groups, potlucks, talent programs and lectures throughout the year. In recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of more large-scale undertakings such as the annual Portland Humanist Film Fest.

Another event, in its third year, that’s gaining national attention is DARKTOLIGHT.

DARKTOLIGHT is the manifestation of an idea that came to me many years ago concerning a desire to have a secular event to celebrate in December, the month when the world around us goes mad with hyper-religiosity. As a composer and arts lover, I knew that music and art would definitely be a part.

I decided to center the event on the Winter Solstice, a natural, celestial occurrence that carries with it very deep symbolic implications having to do with the very essence of the cycle of life itself. The emergence from darkness and death into the seasons of light and life became, in my mind, a metaphor for a paradigm shift in human attitudes from myth-based thinking to an enlightened world of scientific reason.

In 2008, working with a soprano duo and a roster of musicians and performers who would work for little or nothing, I booked the 140-seat theater of the Portland Music Community Center for Dec. 21. I’d written a work called “Songs for Winter Solstice,” consisting of three contrasting songs. But when Portland was hit by an unusual cold front that essentially crippled a city ill-equipped to deal with radical weather conditions for close to two weeks, DARKTOLIGHT 2008 became a casualty.

In 2009, working with Center For Inquiry—Portland and the Humanists of Greater Portland, we held a joint potluck and interested several performers. DTL had its “sort of” debut.

The above groups approached me in 2010 and agreed to fund a small DARKTOLIGHT. I booked the 140-seat theater again, got the sopranos back on board and assembled a very accomplished group of actors, singers, songwriters and musicians. Kol Shalom, a secular Jewish group, helped with an ad in the program. We were all nervous -— no secular event like this had ever been attempted here.

Then the crowd started coming. Couples, families, children, teens, small groups and, before long, we realized we had a hit. DTL 2010 was standing room only! And, with the donations received and the sale of refreshments, the new event was fiscally almost a break-even affair.

I took 2011 off for personal reasons while receiving a fair number of inquiries about whether there’d be a solstice show in December. Early in 2012, CFI-Portland agreed with my vision of a much larger, bolder event, one truer to my original vision but also with a higher price tag.

I began putting together the newest incarnation of DTL called BANG! We booked a 200-seat, professional theater space and are doing three shows with a cast of 14 and four instrumentalists. BANG! takes the audience on a trip through time and space from the big bang to present-day Earth, with a humanist message about our choices and responsibilities. The music ranges from doo-woop to hip-hop and folk to jazz.

DARKTOLIGHT is a special time of secular togetherness, a cultural tether to fill us with a sense of pride, purpose and community. We encourage all locales to celebrate the solstice in their own way. We need to start establishing our own culture, arts and traditions, and it can certainly be done in ways that reflect individual locales.

We’ll perform BANG! at Portland Metro Arts on Friday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m. and on Dec. 22 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Go to darktolight.org/ for more information.

As a proud member of FFRF, I am very honored that you have allowed me this chance to be spotlighted in Freethought Today. Please say “hi” if you attend BANG! By supporting each other, we support the greater cause.


Fred Strong lives in Portland with his partner, Sandra Brown, and her five cats. He holds a B.A. in composition from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va. As he works toward making his avocations (writing, composition, songwriting) his vocation, he owns and operates a small but popular sustainable irrigation company.

In 2011, his humanist choral piece “The Well” was performed in the U.S. Capitol by the Women’s Vocal Ensemble of Clark College, Vancouver, Wash.

Freedom From Religion Foundation